Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Folk Art Piece for the Holidays

Turkey Mountain Traders specializes in fine antique American Indian Art, but those who have known us for years know that we also love American folk art, and are always actively searching for great examples. Truly superior pieces are rare, which is why it is so exciting when something outstanding comes along--something like this wonderful crèche.

It was made in Illinois in the late 1940s or 1950s, and is carved and painted wood with two small electrical fixtures (the wiring has been recently redone, for safety reasons.) There are all the expected things--the baby, the mother, the Wise Men, the animals, and the Star of Bethlehem at the top. And then, there is a surprise--on the roof, there is a skunk, because the artist figured that there had to be a skunk present in the manger somewhere.

At 23 1/2" wide and 14" high, it is large enough to show great detail but small enough to fit easily into any room setting.

Folk art is always a representation of the artist's culture, but the best folk art also gives a window into the soul of the maker. The carver who made this crèche may not have been a well-educated man, but he was clearly someone with a deep reverence and love for the story behind the scene. This was very possibly made as a gift for a family member, something to be treasured for years to come during the holiday season.

We recently found this wonderful object in the Midwest, and are proud to offer it for sale. For more details, visit the Folk Art section of our website at

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Landers conundrum

One question we get a lot in the shop and at shows is, "What is the best turquoise?" A fair question, though kind of difficult to answer, because different people like different things in their turquoise. From a gemological standpoint, the best turquoise is the hardest turquoise, which in America would probably be clear blue Sleeping Beauty. In the Old World, the most prized turquoise was that which had the clearest blue with the least matrix, and the Persian turquoise with the deep black matrix so familiar to collectors of Navajo pieces from the 1920s was the inferior junk that they cut and shipped off to America.

Since 1975, however, the king of the turquoise mountain in terms of price has been Landers. Discovered in 1973 in Lander County, Nevada, this tiny "hat mine" (so called because it could be covered by a hat) produced something like 125 pounds of rough turquoise before it played out. 125 pounds of rough does not equate to 125 pounds of finished turquoise--the total amount of polished cabs out of the mine was extremely small, and Landers is by far the rarest kind of classic American turquoise. But like all types of turquoise, it does come in different grades, and must be priced accordingly--the best Landers can fetch a price that is four times that of lesser grades from the same mine. To see examples of great Landers cabs, see TURQUOISE by Lowry and Lowry, page 228.

Like all things of great value, Landers has brought out the worst in many people. There are other types of turquoise that have similar matrix and coloration, and selling these stones as real Landers has become a growth industry. Indian Mountain can look very much like Landers, as can certain types of Chinese turquoise, and by simply changing the name on the label the price can grow from $15 per carat (or less) to over $100 per carat. There are specific ways to tell the difference, most of which involve a magnifier and strong light, but the average consumer is better off to simply not buy any turquoise as Landers unless the seller has a) a good reputation; b) a money-back guarantee; and c) a good reason for calling it Landers beyond just "it sure looks like it".

Most Landers that comes on the market ends up in the hands of the few Indian artists whose reputation and skill is high enough that their pricing structure can support such an expensive stone. It is rare to find a contemporary piece by a second-tier artist with Landers in it, because they simply can't afford to buy it for themselves. Also, the collectors who have the means to purchase Landers stones will generally hold out until they can have one of their favorites make them a special piece with it. Once in a while, a piece from the mid-1970s (when Landers came on to the market) will surface--TMT currently has a bolo and bracelet done in the Carl Luthy shop circa 1975 with Landers stones. But as a rule, 99% of what is being sold as Landers is actually something far less valuable.

For collectors looking to build their collection of turquoise, Landers should not be the place to start. Historically, it was so rare that it is the turquoise equivalent of a colored diamond: a rare and valuable variation that has a very small presence at the very top of the market. The other classic American mines, such as #8, Bisbee, Lone Mountain and Blue Gem, offer stones that are just as beautiful in their own way at a fraction of the price. For the advanced collector, a good Landers stone is the culmination of a collecting journey, but someone just beginning on that journey should spend their money enjoying every step along the way before draining their bank account to run straight to the top of the mountain.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

How We Got Our Name

A lot of people ask us if there really is a Turkey Mountain. The answer is yes, there are many of them. There is one in Arizona, in the White Mountains, but that isn't our Turkey Mountain. The one from which we got our name is actually in southern Vermont, near the town of Jamaica (yes, there really is a Jamaica, Vermont).

When the Begner family started Turkey Mountain Traders, we were based in Jamaica, Vermont, and the family home was located on Turkey Mountain Road. It was as rural as it sounds--the driveway to the house was over a third of a mile long, and so steep that on snowy days or nights anyone stuck at the bottom without a good 4WD had a long, cold uphill hike ahead of them. And since this was in the days before cell phones, the only option was turning around and finding the nearest neighbor, half a mile away. Not such a good place to be in bad weather, but the views were fantastic.

The obvious next questions is whether there were turkeys on Turkey Mountain, and the answer is that there were lots of them. We had a flock that would come running down the hillside to eat the apples off our little apple tree in the back yard; first would come the male tom turkey leading the way, followed by the younger ones and the babies, with the females in the rear. Seeing the males up in the tree knocking off apples for the others was quite a sight, and during the summer and fall it would happen as often as the apple supply would allow. But one question we could never answer was howmany turkeys were in our little flock, because one week we would see twelve and another week there would be fifteen, and then back to twelve. We had no idea what happened to the other three, or why they didn't show up with their family and friends.

Then, one day, we heard an incredible racket out by the apple tree and found the turkeys gathered in their usual place--but there were not twelve, or fifteen. This time, there were TWENTY-SEVEN. And the two alpha tom turkeys were up in the tree, with a battle royale raging for apple dominance. Feathers were flying everywhere, and the little ones were getting in on the action. Mystery solved: Turkey Mountain was even more of a turkey haven than we had thought. We never found out who won, or what the long-term ramifications of the Battle of the Apple Tree really were, because we moved to Arizona soon afterwards and took the name with us, but not the turkeys.

Thankfully, while Steve was in the White Mountains last month with his wife Diana and son Evan, he saw a flock of wild turkeys crossing the road. It is comforting to know that Turkey Mountain Traders is still not far from our big feathered friends.